The Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat headline a series of games on Christmas Day that couldn't get any better to start the NBA season.
Looking at the various schedules, though, there are some teams that have tougher schedules than others.
In the NBA scheduling is a little more complicated than just how good your opponents are. The reason for that is that everyone plays everyone. In fact, last year the "easiest" schedule belonged to the Bulls, while the Timberwolves had the toughest. Once you account for the fact that the Wolves "had to" play the Bulls while the Bulls "got to" play the Wolves twice, the Wolves' opponents averaged .36 wins more than the Bulls.
It's a difference, but it's hardly dramatic.
Other factors play into the scheduling as well. When do you play your hardest games? There's a strong correlation between winning and losing and the back end of back-to-back games and how rested your opponent is.
Even if you are playing an inferior team, if it's the back end of a back-to-back at the end of a long road trip while your opponent is playing on three days' rest at home, it's a tough schedule.
This year's scheduling has all kinds of quirks that need to be accounted for. Who you are playing, when you are playing them and where you are playing them all need to be accounted for.
Chicago overall, if you're basing this on last year's records, could be argued has one of the easiest schedules. However, last year isn't this year, and some teams are promised to be much improved. At least two of those hail from the Central Division, the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks.
What makes the Bulls' schedule tough, though, is the intricacies. They will have the toughest road trip in the history of the NBA, and that's not over-hyping it. Because of this year's condensed schedule a lot of these will be the toughest ever.
From Jan. 29 to Feb. 12, just a two-week span, the Bulls will play nine road games in nine cities. Of those games, five come against last year's playoff contenders, and another, New Jersey, will be looking to be a playoff team again this year.
There are other quirks that make the Bulls' schedule harder. The games against the Western Conference playoff teams they play once are mostly on the road. Their only games against the Lakers, Spurs and Thunder are on the road. The only team they have the one-game home-court advantage against is the Mavericks.
Finally, they end the season with a brutal stretch, with 10 of their last 13 opponents being potential playoff teams, including two games against the Knicks, two against the Heat, one at Boston and one at Oklahoma City.
Charlotte has a brutal schedule, though you haven't heard nearly as much about it. What makes the Bobcats' schedule so tough is they have the fewest breaks of one day or more with only 26. Additionally, they have the second-most back-to-backs of any team with 23.
One of the hardest parts of scheduling is the back-to-back situation. While their schedule isn't the toughest in terms of quality of opponents, when you're the Charlotte Bobcats, every game is a tough one. When you have to face so many of your opponents without rest, the grueling schedule can catch up to you.
On top of the fact that Miami has a brutal schedule in terms of who it plays, it also has to play everyone rested.
The most possible games that the Heat could face against Eastern Conference playoff teams is 28. They play 27. They also play Dallas, the Lakers and the Thunder twice each.
What is most brutal, though, is that they are playing everyone rested.
Of their 66 games, 43 will be coming against opponents who have at least one day's rest, by far the most of any team. The next most is the Phoenix Suns, who will be facing 38 rested teams.
What is truly brutal on a schedule is the back-to-back with both games on the road. You don't just have the actual games to deal with; you also have the travel time to add on to that. You're sleeping on a strange bed, and all of that adds up.
The Spurs, along with the Lakers, Magic and Knicks, have the most back-to-backs on the road. There is one thing that distinguishes them, though, and that's that they also have two back-to-back-to-backs. They are also one of only two teams that have a back-to-back-to-back coming off just one day's rest.
Finally, the Spurs have their annual rodeo trip, which is even more brutal than normal this year. They play nine straight road games from Feb. 6 to Feb. 23. Then when they finally get home, they get to host the Bulls.
The Mavericks have the third-toughest schedule in terms of opponents' win percentage from last year, which is not going to help. While they aren't at the top of any one category, back-to-backs or back-to-backs on the road, they are near the top in just about every one of them.
In general, the best way to put it is the Mavericks are going to be more tired than their opponents and their opponents are going to be good.
The other factor that plays into this is the lack of "easy" games on the road against the Eastern Conference teams. They don't have road games against the Bobcats, Pacers, Bucks, Nets, Raptors and Wizards; they get games against the Bulls, Magic, Celtics and Knicks. While they will be playing all of those teams, they'd rather be playing the toughest teams at home and the weaker teams on the road.
Simply put, the Mavs will be playing a tough schedule, they'll be tired, their opponents won't and opponents will be gunning for them.